I mentioned we're doing the Whole30. Raj has been talking for a while now about wanting to try going Paleo. I was always very much opposed to this, for a few reasons. For one it made no sense to me. Our current food, even whole foods like fruits and vegetables, bear very little resemblance to what a person of the actual paleolithic period would have eaten. And even if it did, what makes us think we should eat like people who had, to say the least, vastly different lifestyles from our own? And our bodies have evolved to be able to tolerate different foods. Plus I see all the Paleo muffins/cookies/scones/cakes on Pinterest and think that people are putting a lot of time, effort, and money into figuring out how to eat like they used to eat but with different ingredients. Also, I was in grad school and lacked the necessary free time and mental energy to figure out a whole new way of meal planning, shopping and cooking.
So I was not on board. But Raj remained interested, especially when a friend told him how much weight she'd lost in just one month on Paleo. Then I finished grad school and had lots of free time. And was also quite interested in losing weight. But I was still very much not ready to give up cheese for all time. Nope. No way. I'd heard about this Whole30 thing which seemed similar to Paleo, but with the added benefit of only lasting 30 days. Maybe I could give up cheese for 30 days. Maybe.
I read the book, It Starts With Food, and discovered that while the rules of what to eat are similar, though not identical, to Paleo, the justification made a lot more sense to me. Basically you're cutting out legumes, grains, dairy, added sugar (even honey/molasses/maple syrup), and alcohol for 30 days as an elimination diet. These are things that cause various health problems in a lot of people and don't generally add nutrition that you can't get from allowed foods, so you eliminate them all for 30 days and see if you notice any differences in your health. (The book has a lot of specific scientific information about all of this which I will not attempt to summarize here. If you're curious, you should read it.)
Then afterward, you slowly start reintroducing those foods you've missed (because if you didn't miss it and it's not that good for you, just don't reintroduce it) one group at a time and see how you feel. For instance, on Day 1 after our 30 days, we'll try having peanut butter for lunch and soy sauce at dinner, then see how the legumes affect us. A couple of days later, we'll have a couple of servings of whole grains and see what happens there. And so on. So the 30 days is a teensy bit misleading because it takes an additional almost two weeks to slowly reintroduce one thing at a time while staying mostly on the program.
A big difference between Paleo and Whole30 is that Whole30 is concerned with the mental effects of food as well. All of those cheatery Paleo sweets mentioned above are verboten under Whole30 since a big part of the idea is to reprogram yourself to not need them. I am definitely programmed to want sweets after every meal, something I'm hoping to kick this month. Our nightly routine of having a glass of milk and some dark chocolate chips after dinner has been difficult to give up, not only because we (very much) miss the chocolate but also because it's become a sort of ritual and a reward for doing the dishes and cleaning up the kitchen. We have no intentions of giving up sweets forever, but it would be nice to be able to enjoy them without feeling the NEED for them at least twice a day.
Similarly, snacking is mostly forbidden (with exceptions for people who really need the extra calories, like very active people and nursing mothers) because the meals are designed to be filling enough and therefore snacking between would be about emotional hunger (for me, generally boredom) rather than actual physical hunger. The idea is to learn the difference and be able to make a long-term change that outlasts the 30 days.
So, what CAN we eat? Meals are supposed to be comprised of: one to two palm-sized servings of protein (meat, fish, eggs), one to two thumb-sized servings of healthy fat (olives/olive oil, coconut/coconut milk/coconut oil, avocado, nuts, clarified butter/ghee), and all the rest vegetables, with some fruit included in the day.
This is your kitchen counter on Whole30.
Today is Day 10. So, how's it going so far? Pretty good, I think. I'm not going to lie to you (though I'm also not going to go into detail) there are certain digestive adjustments. I haven't experienced the whole "I'm feeling so much more alert, mentally clear, energetic!" that people claim. But the book says this often doesn't start until after the second week since the body is still adjusting to not having lots of carbs and sugar to easily burn off for energy. Now it has to learn to use fat for energy, which while very desirable, takes some time. I haven't often been legitimately hungry between meals, though I do still need to fight off the urge to snack just because hey, a snack sounds good right now. (It really does.)
The sugar cravings have been harder for Raj than for me, but I will admit to casting longing gazes at the wine while cooking. And there is A LOT of cooking. We usually eat leftovers for lunch, so there's no adjustment there, except to making absolutely sure there always are plenty of leftovers. Because while we could normally pick up a sandwich or something if we didn't have food for lunch, that's not an option right now. Eating out is so challenging that we're pretty much avoiding it this month, meaning there has to be home cooked food every night. And since a lot of processed food contains forbidden ingredients (soy and sugar alone rule out a whole lot of what you'd buy) we're making our own condiments and ingredients like mayo, salad dressing, and chicken stock.
And something has to be cooked (that involves protein and vegetables) for breakfast, which is a whole new thing for us. While Raj would be perfectly fine eating regular food for breakfast, I still want something that seems breakfasty to me first thing in the morning. (Yes, coffee is allowed or I'm pretty sure this whole thing would have been a nonstarter. And fortunately, coconut milk - the canned kind that doesn't have added sugar - is also allowed, which is what I like in my coffee anyway.)
What we've done the past two weeks is go to the big farmers' market and buy eggs and all the produce that looks good to us, some of it with ideas in mind and some of it not, then come home and plan around what we have. I make a list of the vegetables and herbs we bought and then we check them off as we start to choose recipes. Then we make a list for the regular grocery store of what else we'll need (this ends up being mostly meat) and make a second trip.
I make something for breakfast that can be reheated and has enough servings for a few days because nobody around here is getting up early to cook. Also, Raj mostly takes his breakfast to go, to be eaten between Crossfit and work. Dinner leftovers get packed up into containers to be taken for lunch.
Last week, I spent kind of a ridiculous amount of time in the kitchen, partly because I didn't cook big enough dinner portions to last us for lunches and then had to cook food specifically for lunch. This week Raj has taken on a lot of the cooking and we also seem to have better figured out how much we need to make.
As far as what we've been eating, I haven't felt deprived. We've eaten a lot of good, flavorful food and I can't say I've missed the rice/pasta/polenta/bread that is a part of many, if not most, of our dinners. (Though Raj is making curry this week and I expect we'll feel the absence of rice and/or naan.) I do miss oatmeal for breakfast, but it's true that having protein and veggies instead keeps me full longer.
A surprisingly challenging part of the Whole30 is the prohibition against getting on the scale during the program. Because I am curious! But the whole thing is supposed to be about learning to eat in a way that's healthier for the body and mind, not a weight loss program, though weight loss is often an added bonus. I've also had to go off My Fitness Pal because we are supposed to be using the meal guidelines and our own hunger and fullness to decide what and how much we eat, not a calorie count. It feels like I'm eating A LOT, but I have to remember that most of it is vegetables, which shouldn't be packing on the pounds. So I'll give the scale a rest for now.
I intended this post to be a quick explanation of the program and recap of how it's going, with the bulk of it being devoted to specific meals and recipes. Many, many paragraphs later, I realize that should be a separate post. So stay tuned for meal specifics, including some recipes you'll want even if you have no interest in crazy food experiments. Because they're just good food.